Start Up: the App Store scammers, the Facebook (non-Brexit) election, Kalanick to go?, Softbank robots, and more


Patience: with iOS 11, you’ll be able to decide what tapping each AirPod does. Photo by meline.ch on Flickr.

You can now sign up to receive each day’s Start Up post by email. You’ll need to click a confirmation link, so no spam.

A selection of 12 links for you. Use them wisely. I’m @charlesarthur on Twitter. Observations and links welcome.

How to make $80,000 per month on the Apple App Store • Medium

Johnny Lin noticed a top-grossing app which had decidedly dodgy behaviour:

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Touch ID? Okay! Wait… let’s read the fine print:

“Full Virus, Malware scanner”: What? I’m pretty sure it’s impossible for any app to scan my iPhone for viruses or malware, since third party apps are sandboxed to their own data, but let’s keep reading…

“You will pay $99.99 for a 7-day subscription”

Uhh… come again?

Buried on the third line in a paragraph of text in small font, iOS casually tells me that laying my finger on the home button means I agree to start a $100 subscription. And not only that, but it’s $100 PER WEEK? I was one Touch ID away from a $400 A MONTH subscription to reroute all my internet traffic to a scammer?

I guess I was lucky I actually read the entire fine print. But what about other people?

Step 3: It’s All Starting to “Ad” Up… to Profit

It suddenly made a lot of sense how this app generates $80,000 a month. At $400/month per subscriber, it only needs to scam 200 people to make $80,000/month, or $960,000 a year. Of that amount, Apple takes 30%, or $288,000 — from just this one app.

At this point, you might still be in disbelief. Maybe you’re thinking: “Sure, just 200 people, but still, it seems highly unlikely that even one person would download this scammy looking app, much less pay for it.”

Maybe you wouldn’t download it. I certainly wouldn’t. But I’ve also never clicked on a Google Ad, yet Google somehow rode Adwords to $700bn today.

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By the time you read this I expect this app will have been removed from the App Store, because this article was on Daring Fireball, and Apple people read that. But it should prompt a review of subscription apps – especially those racing up the App Store from unknown developers.
link to this extract


People on Facebook didn’t think this was the “Brexit election” • Buzzfeed

Tom Phillips:

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People on Facebook shared more stories about fox hunting than about Brexit over the course of the general election campaign, according to an analysis of the most shared issues since the vote was called.

Young voter registration, the NHS, and Jeremy Corbyn’s security record were topics all shared more than stories around Brexit, BuzzFeed News analysis reveals.

And several major political developments that featured prominently in the newspapers during the campaign, such as Labour’s nationalisation plans and the Conservative U-turn on social care, also failed to set social media alight, compared with other issues like the NHS or school meals.

The BuzzFeed News Social Barometer has tracked the 250 most shared links about the election on Facebook, and their sentiment, since Theresa May announced her intention to go to the polls on 18 April. It has previously shown that stories that are pro-Labour or anti-Tory have consistently been shared far more than their right-wing counterparts – and that even among right-wingers, none of the most shared stories were supportive of May.

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There’s a huge long graphic, but I’ll spare you. Go there if you want.
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Everything u/Foxconninsider Reported Today : apple

An interesting list of things that it’s claimed Apple will/will not do and what its devices will/won’t have in the near future. Hard to tell whether they were correct ahead of WWDC due to editing, but as long as the TouchID sensor is under the front glass in the super-whizzy top end device, and not on the back, I think everyone’s going to be happy.

The “cancelled projects” allegedly includes a VR headset and a “smart ring”. If so, both sound decisions, I’d say. But this is all super-rumour.
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iOS 11 Tidbits: customizable Control Center, one-handed keyboard, type to Siri and more • Mac Rumors

Juli Clover with a long roundup of the little twiddles in iOS 11 that didn’t get a mention. I noticed this particularly:

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– AirPods settings – AirPods can now be customized with separate double tap gestures for the left and right AirPod. One can be set to access Siri, for example, while another can be set to play the next track. In iOS 10, double tap settings are applied to both AirPods.

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This is very useful – for all the people who wanted buttons on AirPods, this is basically that, but through gestures. A bit hidden, though; AirPods should have their own app. Putting this in Settings means most people won’t know they can do this.
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Apple introduces Core ML • Deep Dojo

“Otto” (who writes Apple software for a living; Deepdojo is “a blog about machine learning with a focus on Apple hardware”):

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PDF is not about making a document. PDF is about being able to easily view a document.

With Core ML, Apple has managed to achieve an equivalent of PDF for machine learning. With their .mlmodel format, the company is not venturing into the business of training models (at least not yet). Instead, they have rolled out a meticulously crafted red carpet for models that are already trained. It’s a carpet that deploys across their entire lineup of hardware.

As a business strategy, it’s shrewd. As a technical achievement, it’s stunning. It moves complex machine learning technology within reach of the average developer.

To use a trained model in your project, you literally drag and drop the model file into Xcode.

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This is going to make it easy to deploy trained models – though of course the trick is training your model. “First catch your rabbit”, as the recipe for rabbit stew goes.
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The great performance of our failing president • The New York Times

Geoffrey Kabaservice:

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President Trump won the election in large part because he was one of the few candidates from either party to address terrible problems in the left-behind parts of the country, including the drug epidemic, declining labor force participation rates and the rising cost of health care.

But when he arrived in the White House, he merely added his own brand of insult to the usual Washington partisanship. He didn’t begin to do the work that would have been required to assemble a bipartisan coalition around a genuine populist agenda. Instead, he agreed to make Paul Ryan’s draconian repeal of Obamacare his top priority. That provoked Democrats in Congress to be just as obstructionist and hostile as Republicans were under President Obama.

Toxic polarization means that Congress is unlikely to pass any significant legislation on infrastructure and tax reform that once might have attracted cross-aisle support. Mr. Trump also lacks the popularity that allowed presidents like Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton to rally the public behind their proposals and compel Congress to go along with them, and he doesn’t seem to understand that their skillful use of the reputable media was an integral part of their success.

Mr. Trump cast himself during the election as the sole candidate able to break through Washington gridlock and get things done. Will his failure as a problem solver cause his supporters to abandon him?

I doubt it. Scratch a Trump supporter, and you’re likely to find someone deeply pessimistic about America and its future. Few believe that he will be able to bring back the good times (however they define them) because they’re convinced that the system is rigged: The “deep state” is too entrenched, the demographic tide too advanced and the global elite too powerful to allow real change.

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The pessimism is an important observation. It’s very hard to turn pessimists into optimists.
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Uber board to discuss CEO absence, policy changes: source • Reuters

Joseph Menn and Heather Somerville:

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Uber Technologies Inc’s board will discuss Chief Executive Travis Kalanick temporarily stepping away from the embattled ride-hailing firm and consider sweeping changes to the company’s management practices at a meeting on Sunday, according to a person familiar with the situation.

The person briefed on the matter said the board will discuss Kalanick taking time off from the company. The discussion involved the possibility that Kalanick might return in a role with less authority, this person said, either in a position other than CEO or as CEO with narrower responsibilities and subject to stronger oversight.

The source said it is not clear that the board will make any decision to change Kalanick’s role. The board is expected to adopt a number of internal policy and management changes recommended by outside attorneys hired to investigate sexual harassment and the firm’s broader culture. The outside lawyers made no recommendation about Kalanick.

An Uber spokesman had no comment. Kalanick did not immediately respond to requests for comment late on Saturday.

The meeting, which Uber has not publicized, could be a pivotal moment for the world’s most valuable venture-backed private company, which has upended the tightly regulated taxi industry in many countries but has run into legal trouble with a rough-and-tumble approach to local regulations and the way it handles employees and drivers.

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Will have been decided, and perhaps publicised, by the time you read this. Uber is becoming self-aware about its problems.
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We’ve been wrong about what makes for great VR • Betaworks

Peter Rojas argues that “time spent” is the wrong metric:

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Playing in room-scale VR, where you’re physically moving around, brings an entirely new level of immersiveness to the experience and Against Gravity got a bunch of little details right about the collaborative game play. Both quests are challenging — you almost certainly need three other players along for the ride to finish it — but it’s not so hard that you can’t get through it with some persistence, and the first time I played The Quest for the Golden Trophy it took me and the crew of three other players I’d never met before about 45 minutes to get through it.

Forty-five minutes of gameplay would be short for a AAA title like GTA V or Skyrim (I’m spent about 75 hours with Skyrim and would play for hours at a stretch, if I could), but what struck me was how satisfying Rec Room’s quest felt after I was done. For those forty-five minutes I was entirely immersed in the experience, working hard not to let down the three strangers I’d been randomly paired up with, and absolutely ecstatic when after several tries we were able to complete it. But what I hadn’t expected was that at the end I was perfectly content to take my headset off and go back to the real world. I didn’t want to keep playing or to spend a couple more hours inside of my headset. Playing The Quest was like eating a satisfying meal, one where I didn’t leave feeling either hungry or overstuffed.

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link to this extract


Alphabet agrees to sell Boston Dynamics to SoftBank • The Verge

Nick Statt:

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Despite the steady march of Boston Dynamics’ robotics innovations, it appears Alphabet leadership didn’t quite know what it would ultimately do with the company. As part of an overall restructuring and cost-saving strategy set forth by Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat last year, the company has taken significant measures to slim down its experimental efforts and rein in its “moonshot” projects. Even prior to Porat’s hiring, it was clear Alphabet was at a bit of a loss with regard to its robotics ambitions. Astro Teller, the head of the company’s X lab, was the one who disbanded Replicant in 2014, before Google was restructured as Alphabet, according to Bloomberg.

As part of the SoftBank deal, Alphabet is also selling Schaft, a humanoid robotics company Google acquired as part of its Replicant buying spree back in 2013 and 2014. Schaft was spun out of the JSK Robotics Laboratory within the University of Tokyo, making it a sensible purchase for SoftBank. Despite its huge presence in the Japanese telecom market, thanks to its 2006 acquisition of Vodafone Japan, SoftBank is also a leader in robotics — the company makes the popular humanoid Pepper robot in partnership with Aldebaran Robotics.

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Two things. SoftBank also now owns ARM; Alphabet is really pulling its horns in.
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In mobile internet speed, the US lags. It does not matter • Spectrum Matters

Gary Kim:

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To my knowledge, the United States has never ranked at the top of any key measure of tele-density (voice adoption), mobile adoption, internet access speed or take rates.

In other words, U.S. consumers often (virtually always) have lagged behind consumers in other nations on measures of telecom service adoption, and U.S. providers often have lagged behind in terms of network performance.

And there are reasons for that situation, including large areas of very-low population density where any fixed network is unsustainable. The expense and time required to “wire” a continent-sized area also plays a role.

Also, although wide gaps historically have existed, those gaps always have closed fairly quickly. So the size of the gap, early on, is often quite large. There is no historical evidence that such gaps persist very long. The gap is going to close, and relatively quickly.

Beyond all those statistical measures, there is the matter of impact. Researchers have noted that for long periods of time, information technology investment has failed to produce measurable increases in productivity, for example.

So one way of looking at tele-density or IT intensity is to ascertain measurable impact. If high adoption does not appear to lead to commensurate economic advantage, one might question whether what we are measuring actually matters.

Few, if any observers would claim that “not at the top” U.S. adoption of any form of internet access prevents U.S. businesses and consumers from wringing benefit from the internet ecosystem. In other words, beyond a certain point, perhaps the state of infrastructure adoption is not key.

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link to this extract


‘Coal is dead’ and oil faces ‘peak demand,’ says world’s largest investment group • Think Progress

Joe Romm:

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The U.S. alone has shuttered 40 gigawatts of coal plants since 2000.

“These [coal plants] will not reopen whatever anything President Trump does,” as Bloomberg New Energy Finance recently explained, “nor do we see much appetite among investors for ploughing money into U.S. coal extraction — stranded asset risk will trump rhetoric.”
The economic reality is that cheap fracked gas and plummeting prices for clean energy has squeezed both coal production and coal consumption to levels not seen for decades.


U.S. coal production (blue) and consumption (green). CREDIT: EIA

While the coal industry had hoped exports would pick up the slack, that dream has been thwarted by China’s accelerated shift away from coal-driven economic growth to clean energy, coupled with India’s new push to follow suit.

Coal isn’t the only fossil fuel at risk. Because of the rapidly improving performance and cost of batteries, Barry is “bullish” on electric vehicles. And as a result, he is bearish on oil demand, noting that “there was always this historic view on oil about peak supply but it’s about peak demand being an equal dynamic.” BNEF and the credit rating agency Fitch have made similar warnings.

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Peak oil was always going to be about supply; what a surprise that it’s looking like it will be demand instead.
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It’s been so windy in Europe that electricity prices have turned negative • Motherboard

Chris Baraniuk:

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It was very windy across Europe last week. So much so, in fact, that the high wind load on onshore and offshore wind turbines across much of the continent has helped set new wind power records.

For starters, renewables generated more than half of Britain’s energy demand last Wednesday—for the first time ever.

In fact, with offshore wind supplying 10% of the total demand, energy prices were knocked into the negative for the longest period on record. The UK is home to the world’s biggest wind farm, and the largest wind turbines, so it’s no surprise that this was an important factor in the country’s energy mix.

“Negative prices aren’t frequently observed,” Joël Meggelaars, who works at renewable energy trade body WindEurope, told Motherboard over the phone. “It means a high supply and low demand.”

Indeed, there were a few periods in recent days during which Denmark’s supply of wind energy alone exceeded local demand—as much as 137% overnight when demand was lower.

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link to this extract


Errata, corrigenda and ai no corrida: none notified

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